Some of the most common questions I have been asked since I began my life outside India are about yoga. Is yoga really beneficial? What are its benefits? Can yoga make me slimmer? In the West, yoga is no longer what the ancient Indian masters envisaged, and even some of the so-called teachers are clueless about the real purpose of yoga.
So this week I went to a yoga guru who has been practising for about 35 years -Nilesh Karmakar. He owns a yoga school called the Yoga Gurukul and has taught several students over the years in different parts of the world. I caught up with him one evening at a cafe, and over sugar-free light tea and healthy snacks talked about the benefits of the ancient art. Here are five main takeaways from our conversation.
1. Can yoga make you slimmer?
According to Karmakar, traditional yoga’s purpose is neither to make you slimmer nor fatter, but reach a balance. In other words, if you are underweight, practising yoga will help you gain weight, if you’re overweight, it will help you shed those extra pounds.
But in his opinion, there are a lot of myths about yoga’s benefits. “At times people who are really slim take up yoga thinking it will make them slimmer,” Karmakar says. “But when they begin gaining weight after practising yoga, they are confused.”
2. Can yoga give you better skin?
It can, says Karmakar. Every cell in your body has a life span. When you clean your house, a large percentage of the dust that you collect will be your skin particles. Yoga has several postures that drive blood to your face and other parts, tightening the skin and giving it a special glow.
3. From what age can you start practising yoga?
This is a tricky question. Yoga has evolved so much from its traditional form that around the world you see schools that take in students as young as toddlers.
But traditional yoga prescribes beginning practice after 4 years. Until this time, there are a lot of hormonal changes in your body that will be negatively affected by certain yoga movements.
4. Do you have to be a vegetarian to practice yoga?
Not necessarily, says Karmakar, but a vegetarian diet is always better. If you wish to switch to a vegetarian diet, Karmakar insists that you do it step by step. If you eat four-legged animals, switch to two-legged. Later switch to seafood and finally become a complete vegetarian.
5. Why do some people feel muscle pain and discomfort after practising yoga?
Answer to this question could depend on each individual’s body condition. Every person is unique. But a general rule of the thumb is that if you are new to yoga, begin slow. Talk to your yoga teacher about any kind of health issues you may have. Yoga can be practised by almost anyone, but for maximum benefits, it has to be tailored to your condition.